Plutonium . Chemical element, symbol (Pu), atomic number 94. It is a silvery, reactive metal of the actinide series. It is one of the transuranic elements of the group of actinides of the periodic system. Its name derives from the Roman god of the underworld, Pluto.

The main isotope of chemical interest is 239 Pu, which has a half- life of 24 100 years. It is formed in nuclear reactors. Plutonium-239 is fissile, but it can also capture neutrons to form higher isotopes of plutonium.


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  • 1 Use of Plutonium
  • 2 States shown
  • 3 Chemical-physical reactions
  • 4 Radiotoxicity
  • 5 Health Effects of Plutonium
  • 6 Environmental Effects of Plutonium
  • 7 Sources

Use of Plutonium

Plutonium-238, with a half-life of 87.7 years. It is used in heat sources for space applications and has been used in cardiac pacemakers. Plutonium-239 is used as a nuclear fuel in the production of radioactive isotopes for research and as a fissile agent in nuclear weapons .

States shown

Plutonium exhibits various valence states in solution and in the solid state. Metallic plutonium is very electropositive. Many plutonium alloys have been prepared and a large number of intermetallic compounds have been characterized.

Chemical-physical reactions

The reaction of metal with Hydrogen produces two hydrides, which form at temperatures as low as 150ºC (300ºF). Its decomposition above 750ºC (1400ºF) can be used to prepare reactive plutonium powder. The most common oxide is PuO 2 , formed by the ignition of Hydroxides , Oxalates , Peroxides and Oxyhalogenides . The hexafluoride plutonium , the most volatile element of this known compound, is a powerful fluorinating agent. Some other binary compounds are known. Among these are carbides, silicides, sulfides, and selenides, which are of special interest because of their refractory nature.


Due to its radiotoxicity, plutonium and its compounds require special handling techniques to prevent their ingestion or inhalation; therefore, all work with plutonium and its compounds must be carried out in a glove box. To work with plutonium, and its alloys, which are attacked by humidity and atmospheric gases , these boxes can be filled with Helium or Argon .

Health Effects of Plutonium

Plutonium is sometimes described in the media as the most toxic substance known to humans, although there is general agreement among experts in this field that this is incorrect. As of 2003 there have not yet been any human deaths officially attributed to exposure to plutonium. The radius of natural occurrence is around 200 times more radiotoxic than plutonium, and some organic toxins such as botulinum toxin are billions of times more toxic than plutonium.
The alpha radiation it emits does not penetrate the skin, but it can radiate internal organs when plutonium is inhaled or ingested. Extremely small plutonium particles on the order of micrograms can cause lung cancer if inhaled. Considerably larger amounts can cause acute radiation poisoning and death if ingested or inhaled; however, as of yet, there are no known deaths from inhaling or ingesting plutonium, and many people have measurable amounts of plutonium in their bodies. Plutonium is a dangerous substance that has been used in explosives for a long time. It is released into the atmosphere mainly by atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and by accidents at weapons production sites. When plutonium is released into the atmosphere it will fall back to Earth and end up in the soil.
Human exposure to plutonium is not very likely, but it sometimes occurs as a result of accidental releases during use, transportation, or dumping.
Because plutonium does not have gamma radiation, you are not likely to notice health effects from working with plutonium unless it is breathed in or swallowed in some way.

When you breathe, plutonium can stay in your lungs or move to your bones or other organs. It generally stays in the body for a long time and continually exposes the body’s tissues to radiation. After a few years this could result in the development of cancer.

What’s more, plutonium can affect the ability to resist disease and the radioactivity of plutonium can cause reproductive failure.

Environmental Effects of Plutonium

Trace amounts of plutonium are found naturally in uranium-rich minerals. Humans produce most of the existing plutonium in special nuclear reactors.In
addition to being naturally present in very small quantities, plutonium can also enter the environment through leaks from nuclear reactors, weapons production plants, and nuclear power plants. investigation. A major source of plutonium leaks is nuclear weapons tests.

Plutonium can enter surface waters through accidental releases and dumping of radioactive waste. The Soil can become contaminated with plutonium through fallout during nuclear weapons tests. Plutonium slowly moves down through the ground, into groundwater.
Plants absorb low levels of plutonium, but these levels are not high enough to cause biomagnification of plutonium in the food chain, or accumulation in the bodies of animals.


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